Pike River commissioner says inquiry not a trial

10:07 pm on 5 April 2011

The head of the Royal Commission into the tragedy at the Pike River mine on the West Coast has stressed the inquiry is not a trial.

The commission on Tuesday held a preliminary hearing into the deaths of 29 mine workers and contractors following explosions at the West Coast mine which began on 19 November last year.

The three-man commission was chaired by Justice Panckhurst at a court in Greymouth ahead of the full inquiry which begins on 23 May.

In his opening statement, Justice Panckhurst stressed the Royal Commission is not a court case and that no one was on trial. He promised a fair, open and thorough, but expeditious hearing.

The judge said the purpose of the inquiry is to find out what happened in the mine and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

Pike River Coal Ltd went into receivership following the disaster.

The company told the hearing it can not afford to provide written evidence and other material requested by the Royal Commission.

Its lawyer, Stacey Shortall, said the company lacks the money to prepare material including written witness statements and doucment compilation.

Ms Shortall said Pike River Coal Ltd had asked the commission for funding help but was turned down, and it had been unable to find other sources of financial aid.

Justice Panckhurst adjourned proceedings until 23 May when the commission will begin hearing 15 weeks of evidence, to be held in four blocks until November.

Tuesday's hearing began with a minute's silence in memory of the men who died.

About 20 family members were in the public gallery of the court, along with a dozen or more friends. Most of the 30 lawyers listed to appear on behalf of clients also attended.